Keystone XL Pipeline Approved – Or Maybe Not

Keystone Pipeline OklahomaBoth the U.S. House and Senate have now approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Once the two versions of the bill go through a brief reconciliation process the finalized bill will be sent to the President for his signature. He must decide within ten days whether to sign it into law or veto it.

The House with its increased Republican majority took up the Keystone bill as its first item of major business. House Resolution 3 was introduced on Jan 6, 2015 and passed on Jan 9.

The Republican-led Senate then took up the bill as its first item of business and, after lengthy debate and some amendments, passed its version of the bill on Jan 29.

Sen. John Barrasso (photo courtesy U.S. Senate - click to enlargMembers supporting the Keystone XL bill argued that the pipeline is vitally important to the U.S. economy, saying it would add thousands of new jobs. For example, Sen. John Barrasso on Wyoming claimed on Meet the Press on Jan. 4 that, “[Obama’s] own State Department said it’s 42,000 new jobs.”

The only problem is, as Emily Atkin of ThinkProgress has pointed out,

The State Department did not say the Keystone XL pipeline would create 42,000 new jobs. Instead, it said the project would “support” 42,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs, 99 percent of which would be temporary, not lasting more than the two years it would take to construct. Once the project is completed, the State Department estimates that the pipeline would only create 35 full-time jobs.

These 35 jobs would be all that is needed for “routine inspections, maintenance and repair.”

construction of the gas pipelineSo how many actual short-term construction jobs (rather than secondary spin-off jobs) would be generated by this project? TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the project that would be shipping the oil through the U.S., has estimated that

the pipeline will create no more than 2,500 to 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years,

or an average of 1,950 jobs each year.

TransCanada has also stated that the total cost over the two years of construction has now gone up from $5.4 billion to an estimated be $8 billion. That’s a lot of money for relatively few jobs. You really have to ask yourself if that is money well spent.

Of course, once the pipeline is operational it will send up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian heavy (tar sands) oil through the U.S. per day to Gulf Coast refineries. That is bound to help the U.S. economy by alleviating dependency on foreign oil imports. Right? Except that this refined product is primarily destined for export to other countries. Don’t look for it to flood American markets and reduce the price of gas at the pumps.

As President Barack Obama stated at his 2014 year-end press conference,

At issue in Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of the tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it through the United States and all the way down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to [the] Gulf, it is then entering into the world market and it would be sold all around the world.

CO2In the meantime, mining (yes mining) and liquefying this tar sands oil produces significantly more hydrocarbon emissions than conventional crude oils and is more damaging to the environment.

A study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute concluded that the pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is four times the amount originally estimated by the U.S. State Department in its assessment of the environmental impact of the pipeline. As Adam Howard reported for MSNBC,

The results could have a traumatic effect on the planet’s atmosphere, which is already reeling from the prolonged effects of climate change.

Lac-Megantic-Oil-FireThe kind of oil to be shipped through the pipeline is also much more toxic, explosive (recall the catastrophic explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Québec in 2013, and harder to clean up than conventional oil when spilled. As Emily Atken explains,

cold lake tar sands bitumen spill_0When it spills, tar sands oil does not float on top of water like conventional crude. Instead, … it gradually sinks to the bottom. … This makes normal clean-up techniques and equipment of little use.

The XL pipeline is certain to provide increased profits for a few major oil producers, but will have little overall impact on job creation or boosting the American economy. Instead, it will create a greater hazard to the environment and to public safety. The bottom line: it is an ill-conceived, politically motivated, and environmentally hazardous piece of legislation that deserves to die.

President Obama has said that he will veto this bill when it comes across his desk. Let us hope that he is true to his word.

Image credits:Sue Ogrocki/AP; Sustainability Ninja

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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